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Hentaigana
Type Syllabary
Spoken languages Japanese and Okinawan
Time period ca 800 to 1900 CE; minor use at present
Parent systems
Sister systems Hiragana, katakana
ISO 15924 Kana
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

Hentaigana (変体仮名 ?, "variant kana") are historical variants of modern standard hiragana. They are a legacy of man'yōgana, where many different kanji could be used to represent the same sound value. As the man'yōgana became simplified into cursive forms, multiple hiragana, including the hentaigana, was the result. Many derive from differing man'yōgana characters, but some are the result of differing styles of cursive writing.

Hentaigana were used more or less interchangeably with their standard equivalents on an ad hoc, individual basis until 1900, when the hiragana syllabary was standardized to one character per mora. They are not included in Unicode.

Modern hiragana n.

Contents

Development of the hiragana syllabic "n"

The hiragana "syllabic n" () derives from a cursive form of the character 无. The spelling reform of 1900 separated the two uses, declaring that could only be used for /mu͍/ and could only be used for syllable-final /n/. Previously, in the absence of a character for the syllable-final /n/, the sound was spelled (but not pronounced) identically to /mu͍/, and readers had to rely on context to determine what was intended. This ambiguity has led to some modern expressions based on what are, in effect, spelling pronunciations. For example, iwan to suru "trying to say" is ultimately a misreading of mu as n. (The modern Japanese form 言おう comes from earlier 言はむ ihamu. Many other changes are seen here as well.)

Modern usage

A soba restaurant with a sign using hentaigana. The word kisoba is written right-to-left with the kanji 生 ki and hentaigana derived from the man'yōganasoba. (The latter is found in the table below.) The black vertical text to the left reads 奈 naga (both found below) and the kanji (or perhaps hentaigana)wi.

Hentaigana are considered obsolete, but a few marginal uses remain. For example, many soba shops use hentaigana to spell kisoba on their signs. Hentaigana are used in some formal handwritten documents, particularly in certificates issued by classical Japanese cultural groups (e.g., martial art schools, etiquette schools, religious study groups, etc.). Also, they are occasionally used in reproductions of classic Japanese texts, or like blackletter in English and other Germanic languages to give an archaic flair. However, most Japanese people are unable to read hentaigana, only recognizing a few from their common use in shop signs, or figuring them out from context.

Note that the hentai (変体: "variants") in this word is not the same as the hentai (変態) which means 'pervert'.

Incomplete list

Some of the following hentaigana are cursive forms of the same kanji as their standard hiragana counterparts, but simplified differently. Others descend from different man'yōgana kanji.

A more complete list and more information can be seen in the Japanese Wikipedia pages ja:変体仮名 and ja:住民基本台帳収録変体仮名

A complete list can be seen at the Koin Hentaigana font site (available in full-resolution PDF) [1]

See also

External links








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